Metaphors and similes are an imaginative galaxy which greater minds than mine have explored. That doesn’t stop me gathering dazzling and original examples to enliven human exchange, expanding the choice of vigorous, beautiful ways to sharpen how we think, read, write and speak.

Language in orbit

Language in orbit

A poet can provide the initial lift-off, but then the poem enters its own orbit and runs on its own fuel; perhaps the same can be said of any well-crafted powerful writing.  No doubt NASA would approve the metaphor.  Poetry is language in orbit.  It may start with...

Swarming possibility

Swarming possibility

An unusual image, of possibility swarming like larvae, ready to burst into butterfly winged realization.  ... to swarm with larval possibility. For a rich selection of other Heaney similes and metaphors, see our celebration of Beowulf, both his version and that of...

Bull’s eye writing

Bull’s eye writing

You can just hear and see the word-arrow striking home and whooshingly vibrating its meaning as its velocity comes to rest in the bull's eye.Closing lines like these would tremble in the ear like an arrow in a target.Oh for such twangingly sharp writing!For a rich...

From pantheon to palate

From pantheon to palate

A piled up commentary of poets on poets: Heaney on Mandelstam on Dante.  Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), who died in uncertain circumstances following his second arrest under Stalin's purge-fest, took Dante with him when he was sent into internal exile and wrote an essay...

Relief of the gods

Relief of the gods

A gratitude, therefore, that the whole race or culture has not been wiped out even if the city has been razed; gratitude that one strong torch-bearer has escaped the flames with one essential flame burning, to light another place. The reader feels the kind of...

Ripening writing

Ripening writing

In this comment on Zbigniew Herbert's Report from the Besieged City (title of both a poem and a poetry collection), Heaney likens the development of the Polish poet's writing to an apple ripening from a pure green hardness to something more mellow and...

Someday the history of metaphor will be written and we shall at last grasp all the truths and misconceptions in which this intensely speculative subject abounds.  

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 45

As voluptuous as…

I like the double surprise of this one.  I wouldn't easily associate clouds with fruit, nor 'voluptuous', though cumulus clouds can be plumply Rubenesque. Now, which summer fruits qualify as...

Steel rod and iron bar

Arthur has the upper hand socially, although morally and physically he is no match for Adam.  But he won the girl Adam loved, for being almost as pretty and flighty...

A mess of broken eggs

An arresting image for catastrophe – an omelette.  Too prosaic?  Smashing eggs can certainly make a hell of a mess, but I keep questioning this, somehow an omelette doesn’t equate...

Eggs like a Jackson Pollock

Are puffin eggs like a Jackson Pollock, or did Jackson Pollock find some inspiration in the designs of eggs?

We recently spent five hours walking around the Art Institute in...

The wave foreseen

A magnificent image of a proud and then crashing wave, thundering up a shaken coast, and used to signify the answering cheer of troops.

See also the bestellar reviews, complete...

As fast as …

How fast can a pattering heart beat?  As fast as water can drip before it starts dribbling. You can't quantify that transition, but you know it when you see it.

...

The mind’s cheap tunes

A sharp way to capture the Groundhog Day repetition of pointlessly churning regrets and anxieties: like a jingle you can't get out of your mind even though it brings no...

A protagonist in a lost world

This suggests an expansive speaker with vast ideas; one who embraces the world, makes perorations rather than utterances, and generally waves his arms about as he speaks.

Miller is a...

An artesian well

Peter Brown writes ancient history with verve and colour, bringing to life an era which can sometimes be passed over as dull if not dark, when nothing much happened beyond...

A compass upheaval

This captures the erratic blusteriness of storms. Although this book is set in Africa, the metaphor reminds me of the description of Arctic storms I am reading in Barry Lopez' Arctic...

It runs in families like …

George Eliot uses an asthmatic simile to reveal the religious prejudices of her characters. If they considered that it runs in families 'like asthma', you may assume they didn't approve...

Eyes

You can see these bulbous perhaps hazel eyes popping out of someone’s head in astonishment.

‘His eyes were standing out of his head like a pair of toffee-apples.’

Source: Adam...

How many lifetimes does it take to learn the facts of life?  

(And how long do you have to live to recover from them…?) 

Is it fact that helps us recover – or is it metaphor?  

Source: Molly Peacock,The Paper Garden (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 63 – click here for the bestellar review of this glorious book.

The thinker, with his metaphors, will illuminate the external world through intangible ideas that for him are intimate and immediate.   

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 6

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